Our church has a mission statement — a statement that defines who we are as a community. “In Christ, we are bread for one another. Broken, we gather. Nourished, we reach out.” The statement hints at the community — gathered in Christ’s name — that becomes the body of Christ. Not in the manner of transubstantiation, but more along the lines of Christ’s words, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” (John 15:5) Belonging to a community of believers means a certain solidarity with the mystical body of Christ. The various church communities would be the arms, the eyes, the legs, the hands of Christ, and taken as a whole, would constitute the body of Christ.
Ekklesia is indeed an appropriate term for Christians because it recognizes the communal aspects of the religion. Worship services and masses are central to the Christian faith because they bring people together as “one bread, one body”. It is possible to be a Christian hermit, but the community of believers and the presence of Christ enrich the experience. In other religions, in particular Theravada Buddhism, the individual is given precedence over the community and the worship of deities isn’t stressed. As Buddha said, “…work out your own salvation…”
Christ’s presence within the church body is spiritual, and — for many Christians — visible as well. During the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the bread, through the miracle of transubstantiation, becomes the body of Christ. Within the hallowed confines of a worship space, Christ’s spiritual presence is experienced, the bread is transformed into the body of Christ, and the community of God commemorates it. Our church’s mission statement acknowledges both the mystical body of Christ, and His body, which we commemorate in the Eucharist.
Jesus’ farewell words, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age…” (Matthew 28:20) assure us that He will continue to grace us with his spiritual presence when we gather in His name. Early Christians probably took this to heart. His farewell words were resonating in peoples’ heads, and the thought of Jesus being spiritually present was probably in the forefront of people’s minds. I believe today this is not always the case. In some churches, a casual atmosphere detracts from one sensing the “mystical body of Christ.” In others, Eliade’s “sacred space” can be felt just by walking up the front stairs. In short, the mystical body of Christ is not just something Christians believe in theory, but it’s something they can experience.